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Bob Bland: Jesus’ message changes hearts of skeptics

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Bob Bland, Guest Column

I was the second son born to Mary and Joseph and was given the name James. While growing up in Nazareth, my mother told us many stories about our oldest brother.

Bob Bland
Bob Bland

It was obvious he held a special place in her heart. That was to become a source of resentment for me and my siblings.

Mother shared how she and Joseph had become engaged. Her eyes became misty as she told how an angel of the Lord had appeared informing her that, although a virgin, she would soon give birth to a son -- in fact, God's son. Although terrified by the angelic encounter, her faith gave her confidence that with God all things were possible.

Shortly after their engagement, Caesar Augustus ordered a census of the Roman Empire. Although nine months pregnant, they traveled from their home in Nazareth to our father's home town of Bethlehem.

They barely had arrived in the crowded city before our mother gave birth. The only lodging was an animal stable where they converted a feed trough into a crib for the newborn baby.

That night shepherds who were stationed nearby appeared in the stable asking to see Christ the Lord. These visitors relayed how earlier that evening an angel had appeared heralding the birth of Israel's long-awaited Messiah. Immediately, the heavenly messenger was joined by a massive chorus of angels singing and heralding anthems befitting the arrival of a great king.

She related how, in observance of the Mosaic Law, they traveled to Jerusalem where, on the eighth day, they dedicated their new son. As the angel had instructed, they named him Jesus.

While at the temple, they encountered a devout man named Simeon who, moved by God's Holy Spirit, recognized that their infant was the Messiah. But our mother never forgot his troubling prediction that her son would cause some in Israel to fall and others to rise.

She told how Magi from the east followed a special star to Bethlehem in search of Israel's king. On arriving, they worshipped my brother and presented gifts of homage. Our parents knew beyond any doubt that this was Immanuel.

Not since Adam and Eve's fateful encounter in the Garden of Eden had God walked among his creation.

We had an ordinary childhood in Nazareth. It may have been typical sibling rivalry, but as we each entered adulthood our lives took much different paths.

Years later, I heard that he had declared himself the son of God. I and my three brothers did not believe it. He had become a popular teacher with a large following. I heard that he healed the sick, gave sight to the blind and purportedly revived a dead boy.

On one occasion when Jesus and his devoted followers were in a nearby town, I and my brothers and mother went to hear him teach. As we stood at the edge of the crowd listening to his moral-ladened stories, some in the crowd accused him of being an agent of the devil.

My brothers and I thought Jesus was out of his mind. We tried to persuade him to end his provocative teaching, but to no avail. It seemed that his ministry was his only purpose in life.

At one point, he even declared that his true family was those who believed his message, which clearly excluded us.

I'm not sure when I began seeing him differently. It may have been his undeniable selflessness. He clearly had extraordinary healing powers. His popularity was obvious to all, especially the leaders of our faith. It may have been his bold message and his unwavering resolve to proclaim that message of hope.

Possibly it was hearing how he was betrayed by one of his trusted confidants to his envious critics. His unwavering confidence in the face of torture and a brutal execution caused me to wonder if indeed he was the Savior.

But the event that convinced me of his authenticity was the testimony of friends that, as promised by our prophets, he had risen from the dead. I saw for myself the nail prints in his hands.

When I heard him speak, there was no doubt that this was the older brother I had grown up with.

Over time, my other brothers also believed. Together, we witnessed his final days before he was taken back up to heaven, hidden from our view by a cloud.

In later years, I wrote a letter, that eventually became part of the New Testament, advising my fellow Jewish believers on navigating our Christian life in a hostile world.

Christmas is the story of transformed lives. Jesus' message of forgiveness, hope and purpose changed my disbelief, yea skeptical heart, into a fervent belief that he is the Savior of the world.

BOB BLAND is a Denton resident and a guest columnist for the Denton Record-Chronicle.